Research Spotlight: Justin Ortagus


Q & A withJustin Ortagus, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Higher Education Administration & Policy and Director of the Institute of Higher Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My work is typically at the intersection of innovation and higher education. The primary research question driving my scholarship relates to the growing influence of online education and technology in higher education. Colleges and universities are often referenced as slow to adopt change in any form, but the use of computer-mediated instruction and information technology (IT) has become the new normal. My basic objective is to provide generalizable evidence pertaining to the impact of these relatively new technologies. In addition to questions related to online education and technology, I’m also interested in examining organizational responses to various broad-based policies and external pressures affecting the provision of higher education.

What makes your work interesting?

To answer this question, I’ll narrow the scope to focus on my work related to examining the effectiveness of online education in higher education. I’m not a futurist or someone who believes that online education can serve as a panacea for all of higher education’s problems, but computer-mediated instruction has the potential to offer relief to some fundamental issues facing colleges and universities, such as continually rising costs. Despite the potential for cost savings, faculty and administrators at many colleges and universities have questions regarding how effective online education has been in maintaining (or improving) the academic outcomes of various student populations across institution types. Surprisingly, nobody really knows the answer to these questions. My work seeks to fill that void by providing nationally generalizable evidence of the effectiveness of online education in higher education.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on several projects. First, I have two studies in which I provide generalizable evidence of (1) the profile of postsecondary online students and (2) the effect of online enrollment on several academic outcomes. Second, I’m examining the extent to which IT spending influences the makeup of higher education personnel. Finally, I’m also working on a collaborative project with Dr. Dennis Kramer in which we explore the role of no-loan programs on the post-baccalaureate enrollment choices of first-generation students. This work is funded by the Association for Institutional Research and the Access Group Center for Research and Policy Analysis.